Halima Aden: I’m Finally Home
“The pandemic was a chance for me to know and reflect on myself better like many people around the world. My personal boundaries had been challenged and I decided to turn the page and move on with my life.”
Last year, you decided not to work with anyone who forced you to compromise your beliefs. Can you remind us the reason behind your decision?
HALIMA ADEN: The pandemic was a chance for me to know and reflect on myself better like many people around the world. My personal boundaries had been challenged and I decided to turn the page and move on with my life. I have explained the answer to your question in detail on my own social accounts. I chose to stay away from any environment that was incompatible with my beliefs. The internal conflict made me quit. I believe fashion shouldn’t be a notion to be described as good or bad for anyone. Everyone wishes to improve their social life and look good. This is also the case for women who want to dress in-line with their beliefs. Fashion is the pursuit of dressing well. You prefer to dress the way you position yourself. Fashion doesn’t identify your choice, you do. As a Muslim, I’ve tried to dress in line with my beliefs; I’m still trying. I think I was definitely a little naive in the past because I expected them to accept me as I am: as a Muslim model, a model who choose to dress according to her beliefs. There was definitely no compromising in terms of my hijab. It was non-negotiable in my contracts. I expected them to take me as I am. My motto in life has always been, “Don’t change yourself, change the game”. Instead of changing myself, I changed the game. So, when I realized that I was slowly changing in the situation I was in, I decided it was time for me to step out.
“I’m coming home to Modanisa, one of the largest modest fashion retailer companies that I don’t have to explain the hijab.”
How does it feel to walk away after being so famous in the industry?
HALIMA ADEN: Modeling was a stepping stone for me to get to where I wanted to be… I was looking for ways to speak out and raise awareness for issues that matter the most to me, to be the voice of a Muslim woman. Modeling was a great platform that enabled me to do some of the work that I’ve always wanted to do: activism. To be honest, for me being on the cover of Vogue means nothing if my hijab can’t be as visible as I normally wear it. What I’ve realized was some of the shoots they preferred not prerogative hijab styles, but hijab styles that normal everyday Muslim women probably wouldn’t be wearing, so that’s when the hijabi became a trend.
So, would you say it wasn’t that hard to walk away?
HALIMA ADEN: No, the decision to walk away from modelling initially took a lot to come. But once I made the decision and I stuck by it, it was very easy to walk away.
Is it possible to have a fashion industry that will not demand compromising your faith, and that will respect your decision to dress according to your beliefs?
HALIMA ADEN: I would like to see more diversity within the industry, for example the casting directors, the magazine editor-in-chiefs, the people behind the scenes. We need to be inclusive on all fronts, not just having a diverse catwalk and putting diverse models on the covers of magazines. I think also the team behind the scenes needs to be inclusive and diverse. In short, yes, more Muslim women stylists for example would have probably prevented some challenges I ran into.
Do you think fashion can truly embrace religious and ethnic differences with all its sincerity?
HALIMA ADEN: I think it is inclusive but I also do think there’s a little bit of that in tokenism definitely within the fashion industry and there are some ticking of the box for the show; for example, great we have an Asian model next to a hijab-wearing model next to an African-American model! Still, I do think that they are headed towards the right direction and are attempting to be more inclusive.
What advice would you give those young women who admire you and follow your footsteps?
HALIMA ADEN: I would say to my Muslim sisters that, just remember fashion needs you. They’re the ones that need your presence, there it’s never the other way around. So do not go in there hungry for the opportunity that you’re willing to do anything. Know who you are very well, know what your boundaries are and make that very clear. Because the industry can cause many people to compromise and thus, get lost in easily. So, I would just say before you step in, know what your boundaries are.
You describe your agreement with Modanisa as “I’m coming home”. What do you mean by home?
HALIMA ADEN: I’m coming home to Modanisa, one of the largest modest fashion retailer companies that I don’t have to explain the hijab. Modanisa understands my values, I don’t have to explain what they already know, and they’ve accepted me exactly the way I am, which is amazing. That’s why I feel like it’s life coming full circle. I was both a Modanisa customer and a collaborator, I wore their burkini on the stage of Miss Minnesota USA in 2016 and then it launched my career into modelling. Modanisa has been an ever-present in my life and so that’s why it feels like a life circle and I’m coming home.